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Council agrees to keep animals in Superior

Superior City Councilor MIck MacKenzie, lower right, gives a thumbs up to protestors as he enters the Government Center in Superior on Tuesday. (Jed Carlson/

Before an overflowing crowd in the Board Room of the Government Center, Mayor Bruce Hagen capitulated to a “bad business decision” made in the face of public pressure to reconsider how to handle the city’s animal population in the immediate and distance future.

Hagen had originally proposed negotiating with the city of Duluth to take stray cats and dogs from Superior, and work with either Animal Allies or the Humane Society of Douglas County to provide animal surrender services for Superior residents. 

However, Hagen changed that proposal Tuesday night, recommending the council negotiate with the Humane Society of Douglas County for interim management of the Superior Animal Shelter when Animal Allies contract ends April 30, and moving ahead with design of a new shelter in Superior.

And the council agreed, amending the mayor’s proposal to negotiate with Duluth, and instead negotiate with the Humane Society of Douglas County for interim management services.

Animal Allies board president Tim Riley told councilors the board pulled back from Superior because the original design changed so drastically, Animal Allies decided to pull out, in part, to protect its own interests.

Hagen said he was having conversations about interim management of the shelter with Humane Society of Douglas County board President Michelle Porter last weekend.

The plan presented by Hagen has clear timelines. After three years of working on the issue — the new shelter has been in planning stages for six year — the mayor said if those timelines are not met, he is washing his hands of the shelter. After all, the city has spent considerable time on the project and it’s interfering with other city business, Hagen said.

“It’s not a good business decision,” Hagen said

Dr. Amanda Bruce of Superior, owner of Duluth Pet Care, agreed it is not a good business decision. After all, the number of animals taken in through shelters in the Twin Ports last year is down to the number of animals Duluth took by itself in 2009, she said. However, she said she would support the community’s desire to build the shelter.

“We own a dog and it’s not a good business decision,” said Pat McKone of Superior, who appreciated the council and mayor’s decision to keep Superior’s animals here.

While the council had approved a city-only shelter in 2011, that was sent back to the drawing board in favor of a countywide shelter. Considerable time was spent negotiating with other government entities to fill funding gaps for construction of a larger facility and greater operating expenses, Hagen said. Rural towns and villages declined to participate, and promised contributions for 10 years from Douglas County fell far short of filling the gap. The County Board committed to $410,000 over 10 years if the city built a countywide shelter.

Hagen said he simply doesn’t believe city taxpayers alone should bear the burden for a countywide shelter.

The council also approved moving ahead with design of a new shelter. Further recommendations to seek bids by July and find a permanent management solution will be considered in the future.

“Right off the bat, I want to say we want to work with our mayor,” said Deanna Fetters of Superior. Fetters hosted the first meeting of Superior Animal Voices, a group working to create an organization or resurrect the Animal Rescue Federation to manage the city’s sheltering services.

Tuesday, the group staged a protest inside the atrium of the Government Center, urging councilors to vote against a proposal that would send Superior’s animals to Duluth.

Bonnie Wolden and Rita Keefer of Superior stepped forward to offer their time to help get the new shelter built.

“I, as a community member, am very interested in working together with council members or whoever the committee members are that are going to be working on this process,” Wolden said.

“I also appreciate all the effort you put into this, all the struggles and everything, and also Animal Allies for their consideration and how we feel about it,” Keefer said.  “I would like to be involved in conversations.”

Keefer, who also attended a meeting at the library Monday, said the group at the library is a very passionate group looking for solutions.

Christine O’Neill, a member of the former Animal Rescue Federation board, said the plan is to re-create the nonprofit that operated the shelter between 2001 and 2011.

Hagen said he doesn’t believe re-creating ARF to manage the shelter is a good solution.

Superior Animal Voices is planning to meet again at 7 p.m. Wednesday at the Superior Public Library. People interested in helping can also join “Superior’s Animals Voices” on Facebook to share ideas with the community.

A rally to show support for the new shelter and appreciation for the Council’s decision runs 2-3 p.m. today outside the Government Center.